Home sales in both areas increased by more than 24 percent in February compared to the same time last year -- a bigger jump than in any other part of the state, according to numbers released Friday by S.C. Realtors.
The Hilton Head area, which includes nearby outlying areas, led the state last year in sales -- up nearly 22 percent to 3,305 homes.
In the Beaufort area and some of its outlying areas, sales rose nearly 12 percent to 1,103.
That trend continued in February, with 229 homes sold in the Hilton Head area -- 38 more than in February 2012. The Beaufort area saw a 24.6 percent increase, with 86 homes sold in February.
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Statewide, sales were up 16.1 percent from March 2012 through February 2013, and the median sales price increased 1.4 percent to $150,000.
But home prices in the Hilton Head and Beaufort areas are still down.
The Hilton Head area's median sales price was $228,000, down 4.2 percent compared to February 2012. In the Beaufort area, the median sales price was $162,750, down 7 percent from last year.
"The economy continues to grow at a snail's pace," the Realtors association said in a news release. "Sequestration is more of a nuisance than a real threat to recovery; and there's significant pent-up demand from renters, first-timers, parental basement dwellers and investors to counteract it."
As a result, inventory continues to shrink and homes in the $100,000 to $300,000 range continue to sell well, with about 9.5 months' supply for single-family homes and condos. That's down 23.5 percent compared to February 2012.
"There's a growing sense of optimism," said Andy Twisdale, a Hilton Head Realtor. "People are recognizing now is a good time to be in the market. We're at 2001 pricing, and people are taking advantage of low interest rates before they begin to rise."
Carl Joye with Weichert Realtors Palmetto Coast in Port Royal agreed.
"Buyers' confidence has increased," Joye said. "We've always been a popular area to be in, but the biggest reason people are buying now is because interest rates are low, prices are right and properties are available. ... Sellers are realizing if they're going to sell, they'll have to sell at today's market price. It's just a great time to buy."
Housing gains in other parts of the country have also helped fuel sales, as retirees sell homes up North and move to the South, said Linda Frank, president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors.
"Sales are now moving across the country, and you have more retirees or those approaching retirement ... buying homes in the South," Frank said. "Whereas before, they had to put it off because of the recession and because real estate wasn't moving in their market. Now, they're able to sell the home up North and buy their retirement home or downsize into a condo or villa."
It may still take a while, though, for area home prices to begin to recover, Frank said.
"We're still driving inventory levels down, but if we continue to see the movement we're seeing in sales, we could begin to see pockets of appreciation later this year," she said. "It's great to see. Realtors are very enthused with the activity level and have been waiting for this."